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The goal of this article is to help you understand what a neural network is, and how it is used. Most people, even non-programmers, have heard of neural networks. There are many science fiction overtones associated with them. And like many things, sci-fi writers have created a vast, but somewhat inaccurate, public idea of what a neural network is.
Most laypeople think of neural networks as a sort of artificial brain. Neural networks would be used to power robots or carry on intelligent conversations with human beings. This notion is a closer definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI), than neural networks. AI seeks to create truly intelligent machines. I am not going to waste several paragraphs explaining what true, human intelligence is, compared to the current state of computers. Anyone who has spent any time with both human beings and computers knows the difference. Current computers are not intelligent.
Neural networks are one small part of AI. Neural networks, at least as they currently exist, carry out very small specific tasks. Computer based neural networks are not a general-purpose computation device, like the human brain. Perhaps some of the confusion comes from the fact that the brain itself is a network of neurons, or a neural network. This brings up an important distinction.